Friday’s results dropped the idle Checkers (35-26-9) from seventh to eighth in the Western Conference playoff race, though a win today would send them back to sixth heading into the rest of the AHL schedule tonight. With a loss, they could enter tomorrow’s rematch against the Heat (38-26-8) as low as 10th should a pair of teams take advantage of the opportunity to leapfrog them tonight.
The game, part of the Checkers’ Fan Appreciation event and the first ever AHL/NBA doubleheader at Time Warner Cable Arena, marks Abbotsford’s first and only visit to Charlotte this season. The Checkers previously split a two-game set in Abbotsford in January, including a 5-0 Checkers win that still marks their most lopsided of the season.
The Checkers hope to reverse a two-game losing streak today, with both setbacks coming against at home against the Milwaukee Admirals earlier in the week.
“These were two very, very important games, and we didn’t come out on the right end,” said Checkers forward Boychuk.
“We’ve got two more important games coming up, and those are now must-win games.”
Charlotte will likely get at least one reinforcement on defense, with Rasmus Rissanen and Bobby Sanguinetti both thought to be nearing returns from day-to-day injuries. Sanguinetti, the Checkers’ second-highest scorer with 42 points in 54 games, has missed the last four with an upper-body concern, while Rissanen missed Thursday’s contest with a lower-body ailment. Ryan Donald, who the Checkers recalled from ECHL Florida to play Thursday, is already back with the Everblades.
There are similar questions up front, with Nicolas Blanchard, Sean Dolan and A.J. Jenks all considered day-to-day with upper-body injuries. If all three of those players are unable to play, rookie tryout Brody Sutter would play his second professional game, with his first coming during Tuesday’s loss to Milwaukee.
In goal, Justin Peters will likely take his turn in a rotation that has seen he and Mike Murphy each receive two consecutive starts at a time. Peters made 19 saves on Thursday.
The games with Abbotsford are the Checkers’ last chance to take advantage of their home schedule, as they depart for a season-long, four-game road trip early next week that takes them to the conclusion of their regular-season schedule on April 15. The Checkers are 18-14-4 at Time Warner Cable Arena this season, but have lost five of their last six.
4th Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
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A three-game win streak has given Abbotsford a little separation in the playoff race, as they now sit in fourth place with a two-point cushion over fifth-place Peoria, which has won two straight since losing to the Checkers last Saturday.
The Heat have been off since Wednesday, when they did the Checkers a favor by winning the second of back-to-back games against the Rochester Americans in overtime. They now have a five-point lead over the Checkers but have played two more games, meaning Charlotte to close to within a single point with a weekend sweep.
The Heat will be without No. 1 goalie Leland Irving, who did not make the long trip east after becoming a father on Friday. Irving has played 38 of Abbotsford’s games, posting a 21-13-2 record, 2.64 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. However, teammate Danny Taylor’s numbers are actually better, as he has a 2.40 GAA and .922 SV% with four shutouts, one of which came on Tuesday.
Up front, leading scorers Ben Walter (56 points in 72 game) and Krys Kolanos (54 points in 44 games) are both at the top of their game, as they carry impressive streaks into this this match-up. Walter has a seven-game point streak (5g, 7a), while Kolanos has a five-game goal and point streak (7g, 4a) including a hat trick on March 25. However, as a team, the Heat rank 27th in the AHL with an average of 2.53 goals per game.
The Heat also have a pair of high scoring defensemen in Brian Connelly (2nd AHL with 49 points) and Clay Wilson (6th AHL with 41 points). They both made the AHL’s second All-Star team, which the league announced earlier in the week.
FIRST TO 20: With his first-period, power-play goal against Milwaukee on Thursday, forward Zach Boychuk became the first Checkers player to hit the 20-goal mark this season. With six games to go, Boychuk, who has six goals in his last 10 games, is just two away from tying his career high set last season. Jerome Samson (19), Zac Dalpe (18) and Chris Terry (15) are also in the hunt for 20.
SHOOTING GALLERY: The Checkers have out-shot their opponents in 15 of their last 20 games, taking a total of 127 more shots during that span. However, their record is 6-9-5 during that stretch, which dates back to Feb. 12. The Checkers, who rank sixth in the AHL with an average of 32.4 shots per game but 18th with an average of 2.74 goals per game, actually have a better record in terms of potential points earned when out-shot by their opponents (.611) then they do when they record more shots (.550).
BOWMAN’S BACK: Now in his third professional season, forward Drayson Bowman has posted the highest scoring pace of his career at both the NHL and AHL levels. In just 36 games with the Checkers this season, Bowman, who scored his 12th AHL goal of the season in his return to the lineup on Thursday, has matched his total from 51 games last season. In his last eight games with Charlotte, Bowman has nine points (4g, 5a).
INJURY OF THE GAME: In five of the last six games, a Checkers player has left the game due to injury. If center Sean Dolan, who suffered an upper-body injury just two minutes into Thursday’s game (April 5), cannot return Saturday, each of those players will have gone on to miss at least the team’s next game. Nicolas Blanchard (March 24), Bobby Sanguinetti (March 25), A.J. Jenks (March 31) and Rasmus Rissanen (April 3) round out the recent injury list.
THE MAGIC NUMBER: The Checkers are 29-4-2 when scoring three or more goals this season. All four of those regulation losses were the result of games in which the team scored exactly three goals, making them 18-0-1 when scoring four or more. When the Checkers score two or fewer goals, they are 6-22-7.
SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS: The Checkers are one of two teams (Hershey) to rank in the AHL’s top five in both the power play and penalty kill. They rank fifth on the power play with a 19.8 percent success rate and fourth on the penalty kill at 84.7 percent.
• (D) Bobby Sanguinetti has points in each of his last six games (March 16-March 25; 2g, 8a)
• (D) Rasmus Rissanen – missed one game, last played April 3 vs. Milwaukeea
• (LW) A.J. Jenks – missed two games, last played March 31 at Peoria
• (D) Bobby Sanguinetti – missed four games, last played March 25 at Hershey
• (RW) Nicolas Blanchard – missed five games, last played March 24 at Hershey
• (LW) Justin Soryal – missed 10 games, last played March 11 vs. Chicago (out for season)
• April 6 – (D) Ryan Donald reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
• April 4 – (LW) Drayson Bowman reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• April 2 – (G) Brandon Glover signed to amateur tryout contract
• April 1 – (D) Joey Leach signed to amateur tryout contract
• March 31 – (F) Max Reinhart assigned to Abbotsford from Kootenay (WHL)